Spielberg’s follow-up to last year’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence is certainly not without its flaws, yet his latest adult tale feels as if it’s actually being told by an adult. As chief of the Pre-Crime law enforcement unit, John Anderton (Tom Cruise) fights crime with dreams. Suspended in genetically enhanced conductive fluid, “pre-cogs” are human oracles who transmit images of murders yet-to-come. Premeditated murder is now a thing of the past and it appears as if people “have gotten the message.” Though Spielberg seemingly cares little for the aftereffects of this social conditioning on the human populace, a brilliant scenario inside a virtual reality palace underscores the toll of the pre-cog’s reality of the future. Humanity is rendered so fearful of its own memory and pleasure that it must negotiate its unfulfilled reality via a virtual, presumably secure, facsimile of the future.
Spielberg squanders many a thoughtful theological discussion though he’s clearly aware of the many complex theoretical layers of Philip K. Dick’s original story. The pre-cog chamber is called the Temple and Samantha Morton’s Agatha is treated as a deity when John takes her into the outside world. Composer John Williams emphasizes many a character epiphany with the sounds of a church pipe organ while Spielberg remarkably juxtaposes light and shadow to hauntingly authenticate Agatha’s notion that “sometimes to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” During the film’s outstanding über-crackhouse set piece, the director uses a flickering floor light in the shape of a cross to evoke John’s crucifixion. Additionally, Spielberg contemplates all sorts of God complexes with the introduction of Pre-Crime’s director Burgess (Max Von Sydow) and the program’s creator, Dr. Iris Hineman (Lois Smith).
Though Minority Report is seemingly structured as a very liberal attack on the orderly disorder of our own judicial system (perhaps even an affront to capital punishment, not to mention the many gray areas of reasonable doubt), the film is never boggled down by its own theoretical muscle. Not unlike A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Minority Report is a film ripe with ideas; this time around, though, Spielberg seems more in control of his material. John’s every action (his constant running, his need to scratch a new pair of eyes) is suggestive of Hineman’s earlier, Darwinian acknowledgement of the underdog’s instinctual fight against death. From technology’s spiritual and biological assault on the individual to the battle-lines drawn between free will and that which is pre-ordained, Spielberg effortlessly moves from one thorny dilemma to the next.
The film’s 2054 time period is worn on Janusz Kamiński’s gloriously washed-out color palette and Spielberg’s captivating, formal two shots and camera crawls. Spielberg first evokes the future with a simple shot of a spacecraft gliding past the Washington Memorial. While George Lucas may need thousands of these crafts to evoke a similar future, Spielberg only needs one. Perhaps, then, the most fabulous element of Minority Report’s future is that it’s not that far removed from our present. The toys are there but the streets and houses all look the same as they do today. Spielberg wisely downplays the role of the future in Minority Report, so much so that it takes a back seat to the film’s high concepts. And though the film falls flat during its overly-plotted final quarter, Spielberg’s set pieces are so visually unnerving that it’s easy to forgive him for forgetting the profundity he so intoxicatingly sustained for so long.
Most blazingly, Spielberg fashions drug addiction as a metaphor for humanity’s paradoxical relationship to the technology of the future. John is himself tagged by the Pre-Crime system when the pre-cogs dream of the murder of a mysterious Leo Crow. Robot spiders that identify criminals by scanning human retinas are sent to look for John in a scene worthy of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. The residents of the building are so conditioned to these spidery interruptions that sex and domestic squabbles are matter-of-factly put on hold so the spiders can scan their eyes. Though the murder-free existenz promised by Pre-Crime is certainly commonplace, if not wholly addictive, what happens when the individual actively seeks to reject the system? That Agatha resembles a strung-out junkie is certainly no coincidence. The film’s final shot suggests that the individual can indeed survive the machine but not without one’s own organic, technology-free detox unit.